On Pseudo-Christianity

I have long said that if a person cannot, will not, or does not follow the words of Jesus, then that person cannot call oneself a Christian. As Christians, we are called to imitate the way Jesus lived and to follow his words. Short of doing that, a “religious” person who attends a Christian church cannot claim to be a Christian. At best, he or she is a church-goer.

The president this week “disagreed” with Jesus’ lesson to us to “love our enemies,” and he doubted the faith of those who say they pray for their enemies. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-politicization-of-the-national-prayer-breakfast-is-unholy-and-immoral/2020/02/06/529518e4-4931-11ea-bdbf-1dfb23249293_story.html) Jesus said for us to do that, most starkly in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, the president rejected the words and teaching of Jesus as his “enemies” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Mitt Romney listened,

It has been interesting to listen to people marvel at African Americans voice forgiveness for the persons who have killed their loved ones. The most recent example of a black person forgiving someone was Brandt Jean, who publicly forgave the white police officer who shot and killed his brother as he sat in his own apartment. (https://www.npr.org/2019/10/03/766866875/brandt-jeans-act-of-grace-toward-his-brother-s-killer-sparks-a-debate-over-forgi) His act did not endear him to many; in fact, many Christians – black especially but others as well – have scoffed at Jesus’ directives to forgive, to “turn the other cheek,” and to treat enemies with respect.

But if the truth be told, had not the words of Jesus been pounded into the psyches of black people, we as a people would have been long gone. We did not have any support for our lives and our rights – not from white people, not from the system, including Congress and the US Supreme Court, and we did not have the same access to weapons as did white people. Nonviolence saved protesters on the street; struggling to “do” the words of Jesus saved the souls and spirits of protesters as they continued to fight their enemies on a daily basis.

In a book I wrote some years ago, Forgive WHO? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command, I examined this directive given to us by Jesus. It is as distasteful as it is difficult. It makes one feel weak because the natural human inclination is to fight stones with stones, and yet when the playing field is so uneven, it is a given that the powerful have more stones they can access, and therefore to wipe out their opposition.

The power of Jesus’ words is their ability to empower and strengthen people, who show a weird love – the love of God – and stand in front of their oppressors in spite of their pain and anger. It is doubtful that anyone “forgives” his or her enemies right away; that seems humanly impossible, but the words of Jesus become seeds in bruised souls and begin to sprout even as the victim of evil works to breathe through their pain. The act of forgiving first helps the one who has suffered an attack or affront from any number of sources. It is the highest, most supreme show of strength one can exhibit.

Those who do not, cannot, or will not forgive display what hatred and anger and resentment does to one’s spirit. The president is an example. He only wants revenge; the desire is eating at him, so intense that even in a “prayer breakfast,” where supposedly devout Christians have gathered to honor God, he cannot hold his pain within him, and he openly disavowed the words of Jesus the Christ.

And the Christians-in-name-only applauded him and laughed, which says at least to me that something is awry in their souls as well.

There is much confusion about forgiveness. Forgiving doesn’t mean you become best friends with the one who hurt you (no need to set up a time for “tea and crumpets), but it does mean that you lose the visceral reaction you experience when you even think of what the person has done to you. It frees you even as your abuser drowns in bitterness and anger.

What we have seen this week in this president and in the religious nationalists is a love of power, not of Jesus. We have heard – and will continue to hear and see – his words of anger and contempt for those who he deems as being his enemies, and he will spew his venom all over this country and everything he touches.

He and others might claim to be “Christian,” but they cannot be. They adhere to something that can only be called “pseudo Christianity,” something which has no foundation and teaches nothing about how to be one’s best self in the face of abject evil and attacks.

Those who fight with fists claim that they are strong. Dictators, who cannot stand to be criticized or challenged, and who kill and/or destroy anyone who does either, also claim to be strong,  But their quest for absolute power, and their willingness to put God and the instructions for life given by Jesus the Christ on the periphery of their lives, makes them the weakest people of all.

A  candid observation.

God, Waiting

In spite of the vitriol of the president-elect, and the bubbling anger and rage that can be felt in our land, it is a fact that we as people are not wired to hate.

We are wired to care for others; we are wired for compassion; we are wired to be in community with each other.

Inside all of us is a place I call the “God-spot.” It is that place where we love each other, where we lose hatred and the desire for vengeance. It is that place that God put in all of us.

The problem is, we hide it and run from it. In our society, there is pressure to give into hatred and prejudice in the quest for power and popularity. We see it early, as in elementary schools, bullies taunt classmates and too many people remain bystanders, in agony over what they are seeing, but afraid to say anything, because they want to belong.

I said in a presentation that I gave recently that I was appalled not at Donald Trump; he has shown us who he is and that is just the reality.

What has bothered me is that so many people have gravitated toward him, even those who are embarrassed and bothered by what he has said. Politicians have lost all semblance of honesty and morals and self-respect because they want to “belong.”

As much as that bothers me, I still think that God has wired us all to care for each other. The “God-spot” can move people from hatred to agape love, from racism and sexism to a spirit of inclusion. The “God-spot” is a power within us that few acknowledge or perhaps even know is there, and it is a power that we stifle because it is frightening.

It is frightening because acknowledging and employing the “God-spot” sets us up to attacks from those who would rather sit in hatred, bigotry and worse. It sets us up to be called “weak,” and “loser,” and worse.

In a seminary where I spoke last week, a woman said that the election of Donald Trump might be good for the country. Perhaps. If he gets people jobs, that will be good for the country.

The issue is that he has moved people so far from the “God-spot,” including and especially Christian Evangelicals, who seemingly rejected the principles of God and chose instead to act on …other feelings.

I leave you, the reader, to define and examine and admit what those “feelings” are and were.

But in the midst of this turbulent time, a time when racists and sexists are coming out boldly to “make America great again,” something special is being ignored.

It is that “God-spot,” being replaced and pushed back by anger based on race, sex, class and economics.

America is in for some rough times, as people rely on their ideologies and leave the theology of a God who seeks justice behind.

But sooner or later, my hope is that those who acknowledge the “God-spot” within themselves, weeping as God’s people tear each other apart, will step forward and desire to “belong” to a beloved community, rather than a community so fractured that it threatens to implode before our very eyes.

God is waiting, I think.

A candid observation …

Leaving the Cocoon

Sometimes, you have to be snatched out of your comfort zone in order to move into the next phase of your life.

I have written about myself being reclusive, comfortably snug in a cocoon of my own making. I have known for a while that I needed to come of out the cocoon, but I have been reluctant to do so. So, God snatched me out.

The will of God, I believe, is for us all to be all He/She created us to be. The recent economic crisis has resulted in not a few people realizing, or discovering, parts of themselves that they didn’t know existed. Entrepreneurs have been born out of despair and panic.

God must be smiling.

There is something about being out of a cocoon that is radically liberating. Scary …but liberating…because being out of one’s comfort zone and thrown off the cliff, so to speak, and being told to fly is a tipping point. You either fly, flapping the wings you didn’t know you had …or you crash and burn.

In trying to figure out how to flap the wings you didn’t even realize you had, you lose the time you had to concentrate on feeling afraid or angry because of your situation. You have too much work to do. To worry or give too much time to what caused you to be “out there” is to pull valuable time away from learning how to discover and then use the wings you always had.

I think God must rejoice at times like these. God must smile and say, “finally.” So many of us remain closed up in our cocoons and never get to experience the freedom that comes when one is out of it, so when some of us break free, or, as in my case, are snatched out, God surely must smile.

The late Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote an amazing, book called God In Search of Man.  In it, he writes that “self-deception is the chief source of corruption in religious thinking, more deadly than error.” He also writes that “religion is liable to distortion from without and to corruption from within …Faith, in its zeal, tends to become bigotry.”

It occurs to me that many of us commit bigotry against ourselves, blaming religion and religious teaching for the same.  We discriminate against ourselves and hold ourselves back because of our lack of faith in ourselves and in God, who desires that we fly.  When we commit bigotry against ourselves, we are more likely to feel bigotry from others because we have created a spiritual culture in which bigotry, whether self-imposed or from the outside, can and does flourish.

Staying in a safe place, in a cocoon, is a petri dish in which self-deceptive words, feelings and attitudes multiply and too many of us do not realize how we are blocking the will of God, which is that all of us would be free.

Religious doctrine and political ideology have been blamed for a lot of the non-movement of human beings, but the fact is that many of us have prevented ourselves from moving. We don’t dare.  We would rather be holed up in an old cocoon than to burst out of it, “following our bliss,” as Joseph Campbell advises us all to do. And in not following our bliss, too many of remain dolefully unhappy and unfulfilled in these very few days we are allotted on earth.

If being in relationship with God is supposed to be liberating, which I believe it is, then many of us “cocoon dwellers” miss it., Richard Rohr writes, “… but in most of history the priestly tradition has been in control and defined religion. “Leviticus and Numbers” usually trump any real exoduses from slavery to freedom.” That phrase struck me, as I realize many of us enslave ourselves, in spite of deep religious beliefs. We humans all need a personal Exodus experience, and Rohr writes that it is as much an internal as an external journey. That’s what “liberation theology” is basically about…but too many of us don’t understand.

I didn’t understand, and so God snatched me out of my cocoon. I was so comfortable there;  I yearn for it at times …but I am kind of liking this feeling of wings that are slowly drying out and spreading. I am beginning to live my way into a new way of thinking. Wings are spreading, slowly …

It’s better than the cocoon.

A candid observation …

In Suicide, Does Religion Help?

The tragic suicide of the young nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, who was caught up in the phone hoax perpetrated by two Australian DJs, gaining access to information about Kate Middleton, reminded me of how difficult and distasteful the subject of suicide is.

When Kansas City Chiefs  linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, and then committed suicide in front of his coach, I read some of the comments posted on a story about the unfortunate incident…and most of the comments were harsh, calling Jovan a coward.

I wonder what comments are circulating about Ms. Saldanha. I have no idea of what her religious affiliation is, but as a Christian, I know suicide is frowned upon.  One of my most glaring failures was a sermon I preached at the funeral of one of my members who had committed suicide. I preached that God surely could not be condemning her; that God knew her pain and God, being a loving deity, surely received her into heaven. I asked the people present to celebrate her life. She had been a brilliant scholar, and a woman who loved to dance. She would dance in the pews during Sunday service, her spirit seemingly taken up by and with the power of the music played and sung during worship.

So, I reminded people of those apparently brief spurts of joy in her life. I asked them to remember her moving. I asked them to remember some of the questions she had asked during Bible studies; they always stumped me.  She was a lesbian, trying to find peace and the presence of God in her life. Surely, I could not say at her funeral that this God had abandoned her and would not let her in His/Her presence because she had committed suicide

It didn’t go over well for many of the people in attendance.

She was tired of being in despair, my member, and I imagine that this nurse who committed suicide must have known despair by name as well. I suspect she was hard on herself, demanding perfection, and this being “taken” by a prank call affecting such important people must have soiled the cloth of perfection she demanded of herself. I can only imagine…but I would again say that this woman knew despair, just like my member did. I cannot believe suicide comes because of one bad moment. Suicide comes when there are too many bad moments, stacked upon each other, which becomes a burden too heavy to carry after a while. Heavy despair weighs the human soul down, sinking it like tires sink in mud. I believe the nurse, as well as my member, were sunk in mud.

Someone asked me, in the matter of my member, why she didn’t take her meds. I thought the question was out of line and invasive and didn’t answer; how could this person know that my member hadn’t taken her meds. The fact of the matter was, though, that she did take her meds and was always looking for the right medicine and the right dose of the medicine, to ease her spiritual and mental pain. Mental illness, mental despair, is still such a taboo that many of us who need to take medicine to make us well will not. We will not even go see someone who might be able to help us. To say that you are “mentally ill” is to put a yoke around your neck, and nobody does that on purpose…

And yet, to NOT admit disease and deep despair produces such horrific and sad results.

English: Kate Middleton at Prince William's Or...
English: Kate Middleton at Prince William’s Order of the Garter investiture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am not sure what role religion plays in alleviating the despair of mental illness. I don’t think my member had much faith in religion, though she was working to change that. Religion had rejected her because she was a Lesbian. She had found little love and less acceptance. Paul Tillich wrote a sermon, entitled, “The Yoke of Religion,” in which he posits that religion is a burden. He cites Jesus saying, “Come unto me, all you who are weak and heavy laden…” and asks, “with what are people heavy?” What is burdening people? Tillich says it isn’t sin and guilt, and it isn’t the daily struggles of life. The burden of which Jesus wants to relieve us, writes Tillich, is the burden of religion. “It is the yoke of the law imposed on people of His time by the religious teachers…Those who are sighing are signing under the yoke of religious law.”

I don’t know if religion helped or hurt my member, Jovan Belcher or Jacintha Saldanha.  I find myself unable to call any of them cowards, however. I find myself praying that fewer and fewer people are burdened by despair, in spite of religion…

We need to do better than that.

A candid observation…

 

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the biggest frustrations I have about being a Christian and using the Bible as my text of reference is that there is no ONE interpretation of the words written in our sacred book.

Peter Gomes, the late chaplain of Harvard University, writes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Head and Heart, writes: One of the greatest ironies available to people who take the Bible seriously is that they may be tempted to take it, and themselves, so seriously that God and the truths of God to which the Bible points may be obscured, perverted, or lost entirely.” (p. 35)

He continues by saying that there is a temptation to see, in the Bible, no further understanding of what we see which leads to an “idolatry of scripture.

I thought about that as I read an article this morning on the CNN Belief blog about the religion of President Barack Obama. It seems that there are a fair number of people “out there” who do not think he is a real Christian. They are troubled by what he has said and done and by what he has not said and done. Author John Blake says in the article that many say that the president is the “wrong kind” of Christian.

Talk like that drives me nuts, because I don’t understand what the “right kind” of Christian is. Is the “right” kind of Christian the one who believes that the poor should pull themselves up by their bootstraps even if they have no boots?

Blake says that the president is a “religious pioneer,” who is “challenging the Religious Right‘s “domination of the national stage.” (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/21/to-some-obama-is-the-wrong-kind-of-christian/?hpt=hp_c1)  The president is called a “progressive,” but according to clerics quoted in Blake’s piece, many believe that one cannot be Progressive and be a Christian.

The president apparently interprets the scriptures to mean that believers in Jesus are proponents of the social gospel, which compels the  “haves” to assist “the least of these.” But many from the Religious Right think that such a stand is not supported by the Bible and say that interpreting the Gospel to mean that government should help the poor smacks of socialism.

It is mind-boggling to me that all of us who read the Bible can and do walk away with such different and diverse interpretations of the words written, but that’s because I believe that since there’s one God, there is one way of doing things. Since God is love and God has no favorites, then this God would want those who have to help the least of these. That’s social gospel talking, through and through …but it is my interpretation. The Bible is not a mathematical formula; there is no quaint equation that mandates that everyone believe and interpret the same way.

That, for me, is a problem. How can there be one God and so many different ways of interpreting what God requires? And, even bigger than that, why doesn’t God step in and do something so that all the different interpretations will fall to the wayside?

For me, the way the Religious Right has tended to interpret the Bible is not acceptable. The Religious Right’s interpretation of scripture has left too many people out, left too many people marginalized.  That cannot be my conception of God; I could not worship a God who condoned racism, sexism, homophobia, militarism …God has to be better than that, has to demand better than that.

The CNN article says that the president’s article focuses more on community betterment than individual attainment. That, to me, sounds about right, but the people quoted in the article disagree. The attention paid to community and, more specifically, the “beloved community” talked about by Martin Luther King, has a socialist slant.

At the end of the day, though the president has a concern for the masses, and the communities of God’s people, he is still criticized by even those who believe more in the social gospel than in the fundamentalist way of the Religious Right. Many have criticized him for not doing enough for African-Americans, though he would argue that the Affordable Care Act really does address the needs of that community and other marginalized communities by providing them a way to get health care.

Some who have criticized the president for being the “wrong” kind of Christian say that they haven’t heard him say important things, like, for instance, that he was “born again.” They are suspicious of his Christianity because it is informed and influenced by all of the different religions to which he has been exposed.

But I shake my head. The “right” kind of Christian does and says what? The evangelicals I’ve read have not been very kind, not very merciful and certainly not very inclusive. The God I find in the Bible is all of that, and more.

At the heart of the discontent about the president’s religion, again, is the Bible, that marvelous yet troubling text which leaves so much open to individual interpretation. Gomes says in his book that people say “the Bible says what it means and means what it says.”  He quotes Matthew 8:12, where it says the wicked will be cast into outer darkness where “men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” Writes Gomes: “A toothless reprobate asked his hellfire-preaching pastor what would happen to those who had no teeth to gnash: ‘Teeth will be provided,'” was the answer.

The problem is that all of us put our own human, individual interpretations on words that I wish left no room for variable takes. Those who criticize the president for his take on the Bible have their take too. So, who decides who is “right” and who is “wrong?”

There is no answer…there never has been …and there will never be. But I think it’s wrong for any of us to make a judgment call on who is right and who is wrong. At the end of the day, none of us really know.  We can all think we are “right,” but at the end of the day, I have to believe that the God of the Bible is a God of love, mercy, forgiveness, inclusion and kindness, in addition to being an exacting God who demands that we do as S/He has asked us to do.

Just saying ….

A candid observation